On Falling In Love …
We met years ago.
Oh, I knew the name. It was whispered in my circles. Everyone knew Mrs. Dalloway and my feminist upbringing gave me knowledge of A Room of One’s Own. But see, like all good future English Majors, I (tried to) read Jane Austen in high school but instead fell for Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison and Earnest Hemmingway and John Steinbeck. F. Scott Fitzgerald slept in my bed with me while Virginia Woolf stood in the corner, smoking her cigarettes and waiting. At one point we started to make friends, but instead JRR Tolkien pulled me back in Middle Eart hand CS Lewis and Aslan were waiting for me. I argued philosophy on the merits of what I was taught by these turn of the century writers all the while discovering Adrienne Rich and Tess Gallagher and Margaret Atwood and Marion Zimmer Bradley. Yet, despite all of that, I will never forget the day, driving down MLK (or was it still Airport) boulevard in Chapel Hill in that old Pontiac of my ex’s. Everyone was abuzz, talking about The Hours. I listened, enraptured, and then pulled into the parking lot to pick up the aforementioned ex, turned off NPR, and forgot. It wasn’t like it was a movie she’d have gone to see (despite the dead people.)
Upon returning to Salt Lake, having freshly shed 115 pounds of a whole person (my ex) I moved in with my mother and adapted to living in a world where my sister came over daily. One night, armed to entertain, she arrived with a stack of movies. “You haven’t seen The Hours?” They all asked, shocked, forgetting I am not a movie buff. I shook my head, stretched out on the floor, and prepared to doze. I was tired after all.
Doze I did as I fell into the lyrical writing of the lyrical adaptation of Cunningham’s novel. I walked with Sally and Clarissa, and felt the cold waves of the river wash over me, just as they had Virginia. Once (and now) awake, I raced to the store and bought the movie, the book, Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and On Women and Writing. I devoured The Hours but then put the classics on the shelf, leaving only On Women and Writing close. After all, it was good for my gender theory and women’s studies papers.
Months later, the rush of excitement over, I opened Mrs. Dalloway, but real life kept me from entertaining a world that was written much the way my mind seemed to operate. Truthfully, it scared me. She terrified me. This genius who wrote like I thought! I was falling in love, craziness and all. I put it down and reached for To the Lighthouse and there it was. I understood it all. I was hooked.
But something serendipitous was happening. I was falling for a woman whom I spent my time writing to. She was funny and listened to me talk about storytelling; we bonded over CSI and fanfiction and yes, Virginia. Then this woman, this woman I wanted to count as a potential lover, sent me a package. A book with letters between Virginia and Vita – she said my writing reminded her of them. She sent me a biography of Virginia and it became official – I was in love. But not with this woman. With Virginia. Oh, my heart grew for both of these women. But as quickly as it came upon me, it ended. It all stopped. I reached a point where my mind needed to reset and I walked away from it all – including this girl who is now married, who I think of almost daily. What could I have done differently? The answer is nothing.
Months went by. Dust gathered. But then, I started writing a character. It was simple at first – based on a storyline developed in fanfiction based in the NCIS world. Rather than Jenny dying she lived, relocated to New Mexico (because if you watch crime drama you know New Mexico is the hot place to relocate) and there her adventures began. Alone on a ranch where she rescued horses and foster children, Elizabeth began to take shape. Fellow fic writers and role players joined me. And Liz grew from this Jenny Shepard character into a woman of her own. And then, one night, I realized She’d been there all along. Waiting. Standing in the corner in that floopy hat and smoking that damned cigarette. Listening to her, I rose from the couch to get my copy of the letters of Vita and Virginia.
In that moment, the connections came together in my head. Elizabeth was in essence Virginia – broken and hoping, holding it together because she was stronger than anyone gave her credit for, passed over by most but adored despite her temper and mood swings. Her lover, married and gregarious, of wealthier means and much more a socialite. Together they were Vita and Virginia, loving by letters, away from husbands and children, and full of the same heartbreak and hope. Through Elizabeth I feel Virginia’s moods – her anguish at Vita’s promiscuity, her wondering if she truly matters, her manipulation in order to keep Vita close. In that moment, not only was my obsession re-ignited but I fell in love with a woman I’d loved for longer than I ever realized. I try to walk away, but instead devour words and letters and quotes and photographs. My nights are late while I scan through everything I can, again and again and again. If I could go back just one day and sit between her and Lytton on that bench while they talk about life, I’d die happy.
I sleep with The Voyage Out under my pillow and keep e-books open on my computer. I want to touch her, to love her, to hold her when our nightmares grow too much.
Because, more than any other reason (her streams of consciousness, her devotion to feminist thought, her changing of the world of literature) Virginia let us know, without telling a single horror story, that our demons are shared and that life is terrifying – and beautiful all at the same time. And she did it by opening herself up as more than an Austen clone and instead changing literature.